A GRAVE ISSUE is the provision of expert medical care, not merely to our lords and masters, but to all, and it is too bad that doctors do not more freely share their knowledge with common folk.
It may not be ethical, but I will now share the little-known treatment administered bythe very best doctors of England to the late King Charles II, a monarch of quite blessed memory who took care to remember the poor and the weak, even on his deathbed:
"Let not poor Nelly starve," he said, as everyone knows.
Nell Gwyn, needless to say, was a woman of great sweetness who used to sell oranges at the London theater and was later mother of the Duke of St. Albans, which shows what patient merit and plenty of vitamins can produce. Her own mother, who was poor, was cared by Nell until one day she was called Home. ("Overcome by brandy, Madam Gwyn fell into a nearby brook and was drowned," as a leading encyclopedia puts it.) These things happen. It was a great comfort to Nell, needless to say, that she had tried to make her mother's last days comfortable.
And Charles remembered the sweet girl who sold oranges, before he died, and his son took care of her, and I have always thought it a sweet interlude in the otherwise oftroublous history of nations.
For some reason there were persons in England who did not love Charles; and historians, who tend to be puritanical and squint-eyed and opposed to raisins in muffins, have been quick to take cheap shots at the good man's name:
"The young man emerges clearly," as the Britannica says in its sharp non-fattening manner, "in precocions maturity, sardonic, lazy, a born dissimulator, skilled in the sort of moral evasions that make for ease . . ."
So much for historians. Snipe, snipe, snipe, especially when the great good king is dead.
It was always said of Charles' father that nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it, and yet Charles II also did all that men can and bore all that men must, and few things afront me more than prying into every . . . but on a more positive note, the good king died in a general incense of love and (as John Evelyn said) of all those dogs he kept around the palace.
The medical profession rallied to his succor, but to no avial, because a higher power than penicillin called him to tend the hounds of heaven and so he passed.
The dedicated efforts of his doctors, though they did not save him for us, are well worth remembering for those occasions when we need healing hands.
The prudent man, while trusting always in the general providence of life, yet avails himself of the friendly cures of the earth and the help of good doctors.
It does not speak well for doctors, though I hesitate to rebuke them, that King Charles' Remedy (which I reprint from an account following Charles' passing in 1685) is so little known to the layman, who might benefit most from it, and which I secured in a roundabout way from the library of a leading medical school where (alas) it is not taught to young Kildares at all nowadays:
". . . was being shaved in his bedroom. With a sudden cry he fell backward and had a violent convulsion . . . As a first step in treatment the king was relieved of a pint of blood from his right arm, then his shoulder was incised and the area cupped to suck out eight additional ounces.
"An emetic and purgative were administered, and soon after a second prugative.
"This was followed by an enema containing autimony, scared bitters, rock salt, mallo leaves, violets, beet root, camomile flowers, fennel seed, linseed, cinnamon, cardamon seed, saffron, cochineal and aloes. The enema was repeated in two hours and another purgative given.
"The king's head was shaved and a blister raised on his scalp." (Let me say here that this is one of the very best remedies for rulers, but is less good for ordinary persons.)
"A sneezing powder of hellebore root was administered. A powder of cowslip flowers was given to strengthen the brain. The cathartics were repeated at frequent intervals."
But with an exquisite sense of balance, what the doctors took away on the one hand, they gave on the other.
"A soothing drink of barley water, licorice and sweet almond. Likewise white wine, absinthe, and anise, and extracts of thistle leaves, mint, rue and angelica.
"A plaster of Burgundy pitch and pigeon dung was applied to the king's feet. The bleeding and purging continued (and in addition) melon seeds, manna, slippery elm, black-cherry water, an extract of flowers of lime, lily of the valley, peony, lavender and dissolved pearls."
In addition to this came "gentian root, nutmeg, quinine and cloves."
The king did not, however, respond as he should have done. Forty drops of "extract of human skull" were tried and an additional antidote composed of an enormous number of herbs and animal extracts "were forced down the king's throat," and finally, needless to say, "bezoar stone was given."
But then the whole assembly of doctors "lost hope and became despondent" yet they did not fling up their hands and throw in the towel, not at all. They tried "their most active cordial" and some more of that efficacious "antidote" plus some ammonia.
It is nothing against expert and learned doctors, of course, that they cannot in all cases snatch us from the jaws of death, and I for one am still grateful they did what they could for Charles II whose memory is never far from my daily thought.
And I thank God that at least he was spared the frightful death of old Madam Gwyn, all alone and unattended.